The lost John Candy-Sylvester Stallone comedy

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Bartholomew Vs Neff was written, announced, cast, and all set to start filming – but here’s the story of how the unlikely pairing Sylvester Stallone and John Candy never quite came to be.

Come the turn of the 1990s, and a couple of careers were going in interesting directions.

Firstly, that of John Candy. He’d just enjoyed a big hit with Uncle Buck, a film that we’ve covered in our podcast a few weeks back. You can listen to that, here.

Candy was always keen to collaborate with writer/producer/director John Hughes (who wrote and directed Uncle Buck, and with whom Candy frequently worked), to the point where he refused what would have been a lucrative payday to appear in Home Alone, instead filming a cameo as a favour to his friend. He did so believing that his working relationship would Hughes would continue, but after Candy headlined Only The Lonely – written by Hughes, directed by Chris Columbus released in 1991 – they would never work together again. Their friendship drifted, and at the time of Candy’s death in 1994, they were no longer the firm friends they once were. A long way from that, it seems.

That said, there had been projects that were supposed to unite them again. Candy was – according to Martin Knelman’s book, Laughing On The Outside, set to take a cameo in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York for instance. He was also supposed to take on a role in the Hughes movie Dutch, but the project went ahead without him. Likewise, there was talk of an appearance in the modest hit Dennis, but again, it came to nothing.

Perhaps the most intriguing project though that nearly came to be was something called Bartholomew Vs Neff. And it was a movie that involved Sylvester Stallone.

For at this stage, Stallone’s career was going through a few bumps. 1990’s Rocky V had been a disappointment (appreciating that some people remain fond of it), and – having seen how Arnold Schwarzenegger had scored one of the most profitable hits of his career with 1988’s Twins – Sly was now on the lookout for comedy projects.

He found a couple, too. John Landis would direct him in the 1991 farce Oscar (pictured above), that failed to win over critics and audiences. Then, Stallone signed up to make Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, a movie that he recently admitted he jumped on when he heard that Schwarzenegger had been interested in making it. Arnie was bluffing, though, with Stallone was committed. The 1992 release would be a second comedy failure in a row for Stallone, and he’d thus pursue a career reboot with the 1993 double bill of Cliffhanger and Demolition Man (the latter arguably far funniest than many comedies of the time).

But whilst he was still looking for comedy projects, Stallone was lured in by the idea of Bartholomew Vs Neff. This was a film that Hughes had written with a view to direct, and in the summer of 1990, news broke that the project was coming together. That Stallone and Candy would indeed star, and big-spending Carolco Pictures – at that point bankrolling the production of Terminator 2: Judgment Day – had snapped the project up.

For Carolco, it made sense. It had made Rambo films with Stallone, and had secured a commitment for a movie from Candy too through is production company.

At this stage, neither of Stallone’s other comedies had been released, so it was still something of a novelty that he was going to tackle the genre. The story would have followed a pair of feuding neighbours, and the plan was to shoot the movie in the summer of 1991, with an eye on a 1992 release. Stallone’s character would have been a former professional baseball player, whilst Candy would be a corporate banker. “I am very excited about working with a director with the stature of John Hughes”, Stallone said at the time.

“I have long been a fan of his films, which capture the truly comic side of everyday life”.

But this was a project that wasn’t to be.

Hughes, as always, was busy jiggling multiple projects, not least the aforementioned Home Alone sequel. But he was also gearing up to direct again, and had set up a film called Curly Sue over at Warner Bros. The plan was to film that movie, and then move onto Bartholomew Vs Neff immediately after that, with the Candy-Stallone project delayed to accommodate the other films.

Carolco began to drum up publicity for Bartholomew Vs Neff meanwhile, with a billboard announcing the existence of the movie put up, confirming that Hughes would write, produce and direct the film. The project looked like it was good to go.

However, going into 1991, things were changing. Home Alone had become an enormous hit at the end of 1990, requiring its sequel to be fast-tracked. Hughes needed to write that quickly (although he was a dab hand at that). Stallone had begun filming Oscar. And Hughes was moving onto Curly Sue, that would hit cinemas in October of 1991.

But the reaction to Curly Sue (above) was hostile. It failed to hit at the box office, and the reviews were very much on the unkind side. And this clearly had an impact on Hughes. Whilst Candy and Stallone retained their commitment to their planned picture – and each would make a subsequent film for Carolco, that we’re coming to shortly – John Hughes was out. He simply no longer wanted to make the movie, and in fact would never direct a film again.

In terms of fulfilling their commitments, Candy was instead directed to what would turn into his penultimate movie, the western Wagon’s East. Carolco backed that one, and it moved the project forward when its deal with Candy was about to expire. Had it not found a film for him, Carolco would have had to pay up. Hence, Wagon’s East was pulled out of development hell – it had been languishing at MGM – and fast-tracked.

Candy wasn’t happy with the project, and considered pulling out. However, this was around the time when Kim Basinger had been hit with a multi-million dollar ruling (that she would ultimately overturn) for pulling out the movie Boxing Helena. Actors were wary of dropping projects, in case such a ruling would hit them too.

As for Stallone, Carolco found a project for him too. After a couple of other options didn’t work out, Cliffhanger was duly greenlit. It would give his career the shot in the arm he was seeking.

In fact, Hughes would be the only one of the key trio on Bartholomew Vs Neff who wouldn’t end up making a Carolco movie. And as it’d happen, the film would never get made, nor is it ever likely to. Instead, the project was quietly abandoned, destined for the pile of projects that could have been. It’s just a pity such an intriguing match-up never made it to the screen.


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